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The Bass and Little Bass, motte-and-bailey castle

A Scheduled Monument in Inverurie and District, Aberdeenshire

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Coordinates

Latitude: 57.2755 / 57°16'31"N

Longitude: -2.3646 / 2°21'52"W

OS Eastings: 378111

OS Northings: 820602

OS Grid: NJ781206

Mapcode National: GBR X8.WC6N

Mapcode Global: WH8NW.ND6B

Entry Name: The Bass and Little Bass, motte-and-bailey castle

Scheduled Date: 23 December 1969

Last Amended: 5 March 2008

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM99

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Secular: motte

Location: Inverurie

County: Aberdeenshire

Electoral Ward: Inverurie and District

Traditional County: Aberdeenshire

Description

The monument comprises a 12th-century motte-and-bailey castle known as the Bass of Inverurie and Little Bass, now visible as substantial earthworks. It lies in an area now occupied by a cemetery adjacent to the River Urie, around 600m N of its confluence with the River Don. The monument was first scheduled in 1882 and rescheduled in 1969, but an inadequate area was included to protect all of the archaeological remains: the present rescheduling rectifies this.

The monument comprises two large earthen mounds, the W mound being the motte and the E the bailey. They were joined in antiquity, but landscaping work in the later 19th century cut a path between the two, as well as levelling the top of the motte. The W mound comprises a conical hillock, currently around 12m in height and around 18m in diameter across its top. This mound appears to have originally been a natural hillock, the sides of which were scarped to form the motte. The bailey is a flat-topped, oval mound measuring around 30m E-W by around 23m transversely and standing to a height of around 5m. Upon the bailey are two slightly raised rectangular platforms aligned N-S. The first measures around 17m by 9.5m transversely and the second measures around 11m by 9.5m transversely. These are potentially the remains of buildings such as a hall and chamber. The motte and bailey were formerly surrounded by a ditch, of which no remains are now visible on the surface. However, grave digging in the 19th century suggested that it was around 3m in width and upwards of 2m in depth. Excavations carried out in 1883 uncovered an oak gangway on the S face of the motte, and grave digging around the monument uncovered significant amounts of pottery.

The area to be scheduled is irregular on plan, to include the remains described and an area around them within which related material may be expected to be found, as shown in red on the accompanying map. The scheduling specifically excludes all active burial lairs and the above ground elements of all memorials and their immediate foundations. Also excluded are the above-ground elements of the modern rabbit fence, the interpretation board to the west of the Bass and the upper 0.3m of all defined paths within the scheduled area, to allow for their maintenance.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

The monument's cultural significance can be expressed as follows:

Intrinsic characteristics

The monument is an exceptionally well-preserved example of a motte-and-bailey type timber castle. Such castles are mainly associated with the spread of feudal society, and in Scotland are commonly associated with the attempts by 12th-century rulers to control the land through the settling of an immigrant aristocracy. This particular example appears in documentary sources from the 12th century, and appears to have been the administrative centre for the Garioch area in the 12th and 13th centuries.

The monument retains its physical characteristics to an exceptional degree. Its position as an ornamental feature within the graveyard has offered it a certain degree of protection from damage, aside from the landscaping and burials around the site. The excellent survival of the surface remains also suggests an extremely high potential for extensive buried deposits to be present on the site, a fact attested to by the remains uncovered in the vicinity by excavation and through grave-digging. Such deposits could not only inform about the construction, use and abandonment of this site, but also inform our understanding of similar sites of this class and period.

Contextual characteristics

The Bass of Inverurie is the only timber castle site in Strathdon that has the typical motte-and-bailey form, suggesting it may have held a higher status than other similar sites, or that it was constructed following a pattern seen outside of the Strathdon area. Position in the landscape is clearly extremely important for a monument of this type, and this example occupies the neck of the spit of land between the River Don and the River Urie, running down to the confluence of the rivers. This gives the castle total control over this section of land, as well as sections of both rivers, and makes it a highly defensible site. Defensibility must have played a role in the positioning of the castle, and suggests the potential for related remains on the land between the rivers. Even in its modern role, as an ornamental feature for the surrounding cemetery, it is still a dominant and highly visible feature in the landscape.

Associative characteristics

The monument has strong connections with the surrounding area, being the administrative centre for the surrounding earldom of Garioch, and likely played a significant role in the lives people living around it. Its continued survival suggests a degree of stewardship of the site throughout recent history, and its position in the modern graveyard shows its continued importance to the area and its residents.

National Importance

The monument is of national importance because it has an inherent potential to make a significant addition to the understanding of the past, in particular 12th-century defensive structures in the Strathdon area and the construction and use of timber fortifications. It also has the potential to shed light on the feudalisation of this part of Scotland. Buried deposits from such sites have the potential to tell us about wider society at the time, how people lived, where they came from and who they had contact with. Its loss would impede our ability to understand the use of such monuments, their placing within the contemporary landscape, and the social structure and economy of the time.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Sources

Bibliography

RCAHMS record the monument as NJ72SE 13. The site is also listed on the inventory of Historic Gardens and Designed Landscapes as part of the formal landscape surrounding Keith Hall, around 900m NW of the monument.

References:

Cruden S 1960, THE SCOTTISH CASTLE, Edinburgh: Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd, 10.

Curle A O 1919, 'NOTE ON A POTTERY MASK AND SHERDS OF MEDIEVAL POTTERY FOUND AT THE BASS OF INVERURIE, WITH SOME PARTICULARS OF THE BASS', Proc Soc Antiq Scot 53, 46-51.

Higham R and Barker P 2004, TIMBER CASTLES, Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 359.

RCAHMS 2007, IN THE SHADOW OF BENNACHIE: THE FIELD ARCHAEOLOGY OF DONSIDE, ABERDEENSHIRE, Edinburgh: Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.

Simpson W D 1943, THE PROVINCE OF MAR, BEING THE RHIND LECTURES, Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Studies, 128.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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